Achuta Ramayya, 52, lives in Tanuku, a little-known town in Andhra Pradesh, and runs a business in commodity trading. But his passion is to save the Jonangi, a fast depleting breed of Indian dogs, by careful breeding and getting it recognition from the Kennel Club of India (KCI).
Thirty years ago, Jonangi, a medium-sized, stocky breed with a short velvety coat, were common as watchdogs with the fishermen of coastal Andhra Pradesh. But six years ago, when Ramayya decided to get one for his farm, he found the breed was nearly extinct. “That’s when I started picking up good Jonangis,” says Ramayya. So far, he has bred 30 of these dogs.
Elsewhere, in western Maharashtra, Prasad Mayekar has been breeding Caravan hounds, the first and only one of the five Indian breeds recognised by the KCI. Till date, Mayekar has raised 14 generations of the breed. But it hasn’t been easy; Mayekar has had to scout the interiors of Maharashtra from Satara to Kolhapur, cajoling poor farmers who kept Caravans to hunt game to let him have the pups.
“The Caravans are like family to the farmers. They do not sell their dogs. If there is a choice between who gets the milk — the child or the dog? They’ll give it to the latter,” says Mayekar who set eyes on the Caravan hound of the Nawab Nazir Yavar Jung of Hyderabad at a dog show in 1979 and fell in love instantly. The next year he got himself one. “I named her ‘Pakhri’, Marathi for butterfly. She was so light on her feet that she appeared to flit from one place to another,” he recalls.
Dorai Krishnamurthi, member of the KCI managing committee from Coimbatore, says, “Caravans are excellent guard dogs. Though I supply German Shepherds to the Coimbatore police, I am working on a project with them to train Caravans as police dogs. Being an indigenous breed, they are very hardy and do not fall ill easily.”
Unlike foreign breeds like Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman that are prone to ticks, fleas and other ailments in tropical climate, Indian breeds are low maintenance. “They can look after themselves,” says Krishnamurthi. They also have well honed attacking instincts and are fast — a Caravan can pick a speed of 45 km per hour within seconds.
Compared to the five-figure sum you would have to pay for a good pedigree pup of any foreign breed, a good pedigree pup of an Indian breed can be had for as little as Rs 5,000. Why are Indian breeds of dogs then given the short shrift? “Because, we are Indians. We value only foreign labels,” says Mayekar.
Besides, there is very little awareness. People like Krishnamurthi, Mayekar and Ramayya are now compiling standards for Indian breeds to create awareness and control quality. For instance, fed on images of chubby pups, people do not appreciate the lean, wiry frame of hounds. And dogs like Caravans make a howling sound that some consider a bad omen. Mayekar reports that he has had seven dogs returned to him for this reason. Because most of these breeds are hunters, they need open spaces like farms to run around. Clammed in a flat without adequate exercise, they become irritable and vicious.
The government in Tamil Nadu, home to three KCI-recognised breeds — Rajapalayam, Kombai and Chippiparai, has tried to promote breeding of the dogs by setting up cooperatives. In sleepy Rajapalayam, 85 km from Madurai, practically every locality has the beautiful white dogs with pink noses. Foster homes keep and breed female Rajapalayams and sell the pups. But the condition in some of them is appalling. The stud dog is kept in solitary confinement. Result: he develops a nasty temper. “There is no quality control as there is heavy inbreeding,” says Krishnamurthi, who has authored a study called ‘The Pride of Rajapalayam’. “Unless we set up camps and educate the village folk, we cannot save some of these breeds. Local industrialists should also help save this breed,” he says.
The government of India’s bio-diversity board for the preservation of traditional fauna and flora should intervene and save the species before they are lost, he adds. But is anybody listening?